tv Tavis Smiley PBS February 20, 2010 12:00am-12:30am EST
tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. tonight, our conversation with oscar-winning actor william hurt. his career includes films like "the big chill," "broadcast news," and the kiss of the spider woman. this latest film is "the yellow handkerchief." it opens in theaters in february 26. we're glad that you have joined us. our conversation with william hurt, coming up right now. >> there are so many things that walmart is looking forward to doing, like helping people live better. but mostly, we're helping build stronger communities and relationships. because with your help, the best is yet to come. >> nationwide insurance proudly supports "tavis smiley." tavis and nationwide, working to improve financial literacy and the economic empowerment
that comes with it. >> ♪ nationwide is on your side ♪ >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] tavis: pleased and delighted to welcome william hurt to this program. the oscar-winning actor and star of so many films is out next week with a new project called "the yellow handkerchief." in the film he plays an ex- convict traveling with two teenagers through post-katrina louisiana. here now, a preview of "the yellow handkerchief." >> goodbye.
>> i was gone to ask you to marry me. >> what? you don't know a thing about me. >> you just told me who you are. but i already knew. your whole life is in-your-face. iand i love that face. tavis: i am watching the clip on this monitor. there is a monitor over my shoulder that you could have chosen to look at, yet he looked down while it was planning. why? >> because the reflection i pay attention to is here, not there. tavis: is that how you know that
you got it right? >> i think i know i have it right if i am more aware of you that i am of me in the scene. for me, from the beginning to the end of the scene, my job is to pay attention. i try not to pay attention to the face, i pay attention to the feelings. tavis: did you mean the view work or the co-star opposite? -- to jimmy the viewer or the co-star opposite? >> both. the other actor is mike conversant. what interests me. now is you. because i have not been with you for a while. tavis: and i feel the same way. >> you are interesting to me and you are going to surprise me. also, i just happen to be
fascinated and i happen to love this. tavis: what drives those two things? because they are separate, i think. you are fascinated by human beings and you love them. you could be fascinated and not love them. i suspect you could possibly love them and not be fascinated. what makes you fascinated by and in love with human beings? >> um -- how interesting we are together. to me, that is the essence of it. a long time ago, the film is part of the theater. it is a dialect, is a conversation, is a question. i am asking you for information and inspiration, and share ideas
with you, you give me something back, the ball is bouncing, now i am excited. now it is an exchange. it is not just me under the lights, in front of the camera. now i am interested in something outside of myself and it is liberating. we were talking just before the program about the difference between capture and release. people talk about i want to capture that moment. i say, wait, how about releasing the truth? the truth is free. that follows the principle about being engaged in the scene that is happening as a discovery between us, in the present. that, to me, is the essence of the moment. that is why i do it that way. tavis: you can, and i am sure you will, disabuse me of this if you choose to do so. i am trying to square these things, how it is that you are
turned on by the organic nature of interaction between human beings, and yet to the untrained person, who would be tavis smiley, it seems to me that acting is not always all together organic. you know what is on the paper, you know where the scene has to go, you know what you are supposed to stay -- you know what you're supposed to say. it is not freestyling. i get that this turns you one, interaction, but what about acting? it does not seem to be as organic. how does that turn you on? >> this is a form. we're sitting in two chairs on stage. we are not aimed that way. we are aimed this way, favoring this. there is a forum. within the forum, there is freestyle. so everything is like that. art is like that.
there is a frame, and then inside the frame, they said it within the film should be beginning of the life. within that is the living, moving, spontaneous question. if you have certain skills, you cannot pick up certain brushes and paint as you go. -- you can pick up certain brushes and paint as you go. there are circumstances provided for each of the actor, the basis of the character, the amount of time you have in the scene, what subjects it cannot go into, how many inventions of the characters do we obey? can we refuse a given circumstance of a character? for instance, second city, chicago, they produce some of the great comics in american history. a lot of those guys have very structured ways of inventing their humor. when the basis of the structure
is on the written page, you know what the words are going to be, but you have no idea how they will be said. without looking at them, i cross out all of the stage direction. i cross out every description of a feeling or thought any character has, because i will say the line, i will read it and go when they tell me to go. but everything else is up to me. tavis: i get that. >> there is freedom and side of it, the same way there is freedom inside of iambic pentameter or any form. any prism is an unfortunate compromise that you make with life, but within the prism you can express freedom. tavis: you disabused me. you win. i have been told, and correct me if i'm wrong, but i have been
told that you are pretty fierce, pretty consistent about wanting six weeks of rehearsal before you start a project. i raise that because i am curious whether it is true, not number one, and why someone who is as seasoned as you are feels at this point that he still needs six weeks of rehearsal before he starts to project. >> my job when i go to work is not to show you what i know how to do but to discover something new about myself. my job is not to prove to you what i know, it is to accept what i don't. so it took me about 15 years to figure it out, but to me, 45 days to come up with the basics of a character is the equivalent of a woman having nine months to have a baby. to me, it is natural.
but i don't know why. i contradicted it as much as i could before. it is a template that i never achieve anything but theater, and certainly not and theater anymore -- certainly not in the theater anymore. i think that the way that i look at all of the work that i am part of, it is a series of plateaus. each plateau is the base for the next plateau and other series of questions. so you just keep going. you cannot do anything twice. you can be alive once. life is so short, life is just a glimpse of eternity, and i want to live my life more like what gandhi proposed, live like you don't have tomorrow, live like
you are going to live forever. the question is the key, not the answer. the question that you have the audacity to asked, the budget, all the other pressures is the key to your courage. you don't have any courage unless you are willing to risk all that to learn something new. if you go just to prove to other people how well you do something, you have lost before you start. tavis: joining your notion about plateaus about never doing the same thing twice, that seems to be the case with your career. i am so honored and delighted to meet you, as a fan of yours, thank you. because if there is anything that appears to be true about you, when you look at your corpus, it is you have done a variety of things. is clear william hurt is not get turned on by doing the same thing over.
tell me more about those choices. >> life is change. evolution. it has given this new skin called technology, and we're learning how to live with that. some people put in on, some people have not. we cannot leave our parents behind. evolution is demanding change, it always does. i want my visceral fat to reflect that. put simply, when i was younger, they said don't go on stage with a dog or child package will never draw attention away from them. you cannot compete with them. -- do not go on stage with a dog or a child because you cannot
draw attention away from them. you cannot compete with them. right away, said if i cannot draw attention away from them, i cannot act. they were breathing, they were living. how can you live inside of a form? it does not mean that you know what will happen. i can check you out 10,000 lights and a row for it -- 10,000 nights in a row that is different. that does not mean that anything that is ever between us is ever the same. it is a question of you play your symphony in here or do you play it here. you could have a 60-piece orchestra and you could have two instruments. does not mean that you have limited your dimension. nor does it mean that the heart beats i am having right now and not the first of each one.
each heartbeat i am having in my life is the first one. because this is life. and this is. and this parent and that was not. but this is. i am growing. unless i admit that to myself all the time freely, and let that be what is created in the work, then i am not admitting life. tavis: help me juxtaposed this genius i see if sitting in front of me -- i see sitting in front of me, has this love of learning, who decided to leave juilliard. help me. >> the circumstances were very particular. i want to juilliard after i already had a bachelor's degree in liberal arts. i think one of the sorriest things is the demographic that says soon we will have the same
percentage of students and university majoring in that liberal arts and humanities as we did in the first years of the previous century. that means because of vocational training become so important now that the economic situation is so dire, that people are less free to choose the study of the subject of the nature of human beings as a major in universities, being prevented from carrying that sophisticated question into their vocation. i find that to be a true tragedy. i was allowed to. i was allowed to study theology and economics and religion and drama and chemistry at the university level. but i got my degree in drama, minor in theology. then i went to juilliard. i was 25 when i went there.
at that point, i found myself one of among quite a very few who had it would be considered a full college education becoming an actor. i could not figure out how you could possibly choose to try to interpret shakespeare or sophocles' without an education, so i was at some loggerheads' because they were burning actors who are not afraid to express themselves -- they were bringing actors who were not afraid to express themselves people and inform people who were freed. sometimes too much education can turn you into a geek. i want to know things and i want to dance, too. what happened to us was a particular situation. i had driven across the country at the end of my second year at juilliard on a motorcycle and
onto a shakespearean festival and did an audition and they offered me both halves of the next season. i turned out the first half because that would preclude it may finishing my year at juilliard but except it the second half, which meant leaving a month early. i went back to school and i turned my scholarship. ithe faculty made a decision to stop me from coming back to school the next year if that is what i did. i said, ok. then someone said, we should talk to the president it would be a good idea. he said call back in august, and i did not call back. tavis: to that decision that you had to make, which i think have you caught between these
worlds, how have you grown into what i sense is a commitment to standing in iran truth? it does not take the entire conversation to say that you have your own ideas, you are willing to stand in the light of truth of those ideas, but that does not come easy. tell me about your journey. >> probably my journey was inspired by my parents. by mother was born in excruciating -- my mother was born in excruciating poverty, never technically finished high school. she adored education. my father was a diplomat and headed out usaid. i lived with him oversee sometimes. my stepfather was the son of
someone in corporate. at 1.0 was living in spanish harlem to a duplex -- at one point i was living in spanish harlem and then at the next point i was living with art. the juxtaposition between my mother's humbled but courageous origins, and the fact she had survived so much already by the time i was born when my parents met in china, of all places, my mom, she found herself traveling from the least populated town in the united states to going to new york. she meets a soldier, the fall in love. they get married, she gets pregnant. he gets called to france, the go to france while she is pregnant.
he is so badly battle-shelled that he comes back disabled and his parents are not supported by their country. they say we will take arcade if you take years. that is as i understand it. it -- they say we will take our child if you take yours. that is as i understand it. my mother was a brilliant woman. the juxtaposition between her awareness of the most basic facts of human survival and the width of her value in freedom, which is education, and if i were to say anything, i would say the mandate of freedom is education.
we have sort -- we have sort of forgotten that. that is really where i found myself. she gave me that education. because of her, i at moderate. her greatest -- because of her, i honor it. the truth shall make you free. she never stopped saying that the truth is beauty, and freedom is responsibility. with that ethic, coming from such an earthen origin -- and there were no frills. no chicken coops and towels and rattlesnakes. working just to get through the first years of high school and a half way house, plus the fact
that i was given the incredible honor of a full education, that is what makes it. tavis: i'm always so amazed after all of the years i've been blessed to do this, if you really want to understand somebody, nine times out of 10, ask him about his mother. >> they say the last thing that comes out of a pilot's mouth before he is offering in -- before he is augering in is mom. it is below the surface. you cannot install below the surface unless you have time to consider something. consideration is correct. tavis: i have two minutes to go, and something tells me if you are not so brilliant all interesting, i would not have gone here, but i have two
minutes and i have to ask you something about this movie. it >> it is a good movie. tavis: we have talked about everything accept that. >> we made it in louisiana. we had a little trouble getting it distributed, and we were very enough to have one courageous enough to do that. we were told it would take a while to sell it to the american public. tavis: that is sad. that is a story about a character, blue-collar guy, humble origins, gets in trouble years, moves from an eastern southern state to louisiana, tries to find a job, gets a job, falls in love. as a reaction, gets in trouble, goes to prison. gets out of prison, in despair, no hope for him, falls by
accident into the company of two young people and has a long discussion with them during the course of a road trip. tavis: don't say any more. if you go if-- >> say no more. tavis: if you say much more, you will spoil the end of the movie. suffice to say if william hurt is in it, it is probably pretty good, you can believe that. it is called "the yellow handkerchief," starring the one and only william hurt. i so enjoyed this. you have to come back again. i am out of time but i have more questions. that is our show tonight. catch me on the weekend on public radio international. i will see you back here next time on pbs. until then, good night from l.a., thank you for watching, and as always keep the faith. >> let's not talk about anything
at all. are you going to ask me why? >> why? >> because i am happy, i am really happy, and i don't want to spoil it. the nicest thing about feeling happy is that you think you'll never feel unhappy again. >> for more information on on pbs.org. tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for conversation with comedian drew carey. that is next time. we will see you then. i>> there are so many things tht walmart is looking forward to doing, like helping people live better.
but mostly, we're helping build stronger communities and relationships. because with your help, the best is yet to come. >> nationwide insurance proudly supports "tavis smiley." tavis and nationwide, working to improve financial literacy and the economic empowerment that comes with it. >> ♪ nationwide is on your side ♪ >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] captioned by the national captioning institute --www.ncicap.org--